Housing center gets 2020 funding

Oak Park board voted unanimously to fund the housing center in 2020

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

After weeks of tense efficacy discussions and impassioned community pleas, the Oak Park village board unanimously voted Monday to fund the Oak Park Regional Housing Center (OPRHC) in 2020. The housing center will receive $300,000 in direct village funding next year. That is a reduction from the $360,000 the village paid in 2019.

"I'm more than relieved," said Athena Williams, housing center executive director. "I'm just glad we can move forward."

The housing center came under village board fire after failing to submit its semi-annual and second quarterly report for 2019 on time, resulting in the village withholding 2019 payments. On Nov. 4, the board moved to release those checks to the center.

Williams is grateful for the outpouring of support from the community.

"I couldn't have done this on my own," she said. "It took the village."

In the Nov. 25 meeting, Trustee Jim Taglia said 2020 should be viewed as a "rebuilding year" for Williams and the housing center and that an abrupt fund shut off would negatively impact the center operationally. 

Taglia suggested the village give the center $250,000 instead of the requested $300,000, of which some board members approved.

Williams held out for $300,000, saying it was necessary to maintain day-to-day operations and allow the center to hire a bookkeeper and development coordinator, two necessary but vacant positions.

Trustee Simone Boutet became emotional discussing the necessity of keeping Oak Park an integrated community, the housing center's sole purpose. 

"White people are not moving to black neighborhoods except when we gentrify them and move black people further out," Boutet said. 

She continued, "Either racial enclaves will develop in this village or we will become all white and African American families move back to the West Side."

In making the decision to provide the center with $300,000 in 2020, the board cited the willingness of Williams to modernize the housing center, collaborate with both village staff and board members and plans to wean the center from village funding.

Citing the newness of Williams's tenure as executive director, the board also expressed a desire to give her the chance to correct the center's past mistakes and implement necessary operational changes.

"It's time to look at doing things a little differently," Williams said. "It's time to move the legacy forward."

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Reader Comments

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Brian Slowiak  

Posted: December 2nd, 2019 7:52 PM

@ Corey Gimbel: I am to old to lead, however I would like to walk with you.

Neal Buer  

Posted: December 2nd, 2019 7:10 PM

A little review of the housing center. First, I think the housing center was branching out calling itself the Regional Housing Center ( paid for by the taxpayers of Oak Park ). Originally, in the late 60's, the housing center was necessary and funded by individual who saw the need. When the need subsided and the donations dried up, like all good charities nobody cares about, they turned to the largesse of the local government. So, for the last almost 50 years, the village has been funding a charity that cannot raise its own money. I hope the village will require performance or terminate their donations. The landlords who benefit from the housing center should pay for the service.

Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: November 30th, 2019 12:18 PM

Ahhhh I get it now. I appreciate you taking the time to explain. I think you and I are going in the same direction btw. As I said earlier I believe Athena is a bully and when she asked who I was and why I wanted the 2018 990 she wasn't trying to dominate me. She fears things she doesnm't understand or the people that she view as a threat (no surprise there most of us might share that feeling) the difference, in this case only, is that I had and continue to have a right to the OPRHC's 2018 990 anytime I ask for it by IRS ruling. It's not within Athena's power to deny it to me and she has broken that rule daily since I asked for the 990. Why I wanted/want access to the information is irrelevant. It's MY information and your information. We pay for that.Call and ask for it yourself. Tell her I said to call. Ohhhh I can't name any federal, state or local agency that's been sunsetted. I suppose I could dig an example up. You get where I'm heading right?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: November 30th, 2019 10:49 AM

@ Corey Gimbel: I think she tried to put you in your place when she inquired about why you wanted information. The fight for funding an agency which might be past its prime during times of high taxation might mean the fight for funding is not over. On both sides. The Cook County TB (?) agency at Jackson and Des Plaines was put out of business, the work out sourced to other agencys Could you answer the question of this example happening recently? Can we look at opening any Federal Office, if any, which deals with this issue to open an office in Oak Park?

Corey Gimbel  

Posted: November 29th, 2019 8:46 PM

This, "I'm not saying that she's not a bad person." should read: I'm not saying that she's a bad person.

Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: November 29th, 2019 8:44 PM

@ Brian Slowiak..... I haven't got a clue what you're implying. Who put me in my place? I don't work at the OPRHC (heaven forfend). What's not over til it's over? You seem to have me confused with someone else. My point was that Athena lacks a number of the critical skills that the OPRHC detailed in their Executive Director job description. I'm not saying that she's not a bad person. Her life experience is what it is. She's very good at training I'm told. But managing the transformation she's being called upon to catalyze may not be within her powers. I've been wrong many times in my life. I may be misreading her. If that's the case someday I'll stand up in front of people and apologize for my egregious error. Meanwhile I plan to quietly observe how things go at the OPRHC. It is a venerable and once major force for good in Oak Park. Perhaps it can be again. As you say, "It's not over til it's over."

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: November 29th, 2019 5:12 PM

Boutet "..we will become all white and the African Americans will all move back to the west side'?? I completely disagree with this frame Some, but a very small minority of black Oak Parker's I know, moved here from the west side. My black neighbors are educated, dynamic, talented transplants from everywhere, not Austin refugees depended on the alms of a woke board. Decent parking schemes, safe streets, and a reasonable tax levy is what the Village can do to keep all residents well served. The rest is on us neighbors

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: November 29th, 2019 4:17 PM

Corey Gimbel: Much like the high school that cant raise the test scores going off the path and offering social justice platform and equity. Much like the police department heralding a traffic safety program involving several officers while investigate work remains at a snails pace with a low positive case clearance outcome. I am so glad she thought she put you in your place.Its like John Belushi said in Animal House, "Its not over until we say its over."

Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: November 29th, 2019 2:12 PM

@ Brian Slowiak. You asked, " Do you think she (Executrix /Herself of the OPRHC Athena Williams) would listen or take direction if she is not forced to? IMHO people like Athena, who find themselves in positions that they are unqualified to perform, adopt a very territorial/defensive posture/approach. They bully employees, stifle personal initiative, micro-manage everything they can observe and have ready made excuses for all failures, i.e The pro bono consultant did a bad job.. A hypothetical example might play out like this:. An organization has antiquated manual systems in place (circa 2009) that allow them to manipulate numbers, AS NEEDED, to reflect desired outcomes. Those systems/processes are then automated and, suddenly, the numbers reflect a reality that harms the credibility of the organization's management. They would lose face (and perhaps funding) if these numbers became public. What to do, what to do? The previous , time-consuming manual system process can be resurrected and, wowza, a miracle happens, now the numbers tell management's, previous, self-serving, but dishonest story again. Of course that manual approach takes a week of an employee's time while the up to the minute computer tallying takes virtually no time, freeing that employee to do REAL work.. Where do you think this example happened at recently Brian? Of course they would deny what I've postulated here. Owning up would be against their rulez and, personally, for that Executrix, errrrr manager, unlikely. .

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 29th, 2019 11:43 AM

So Trustee Boutet is emotional about the horror of people moving into town and fixing up and modernizing their homes, because the people are not the color she prefers. Wow I guess the hard work and investment my family put into three different old homes over the course of our life here must be about the worst thing she can imagine. Maybe we should have Boutet do a racial profile of every wanna be new citizen to see if they meet her approval.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: November 28th, 2019 4:12 PM

@ Tommy "Real" McCoy: Do you think she would listen or take direction if he is not forced to? No tax money equals search for alternative methods, or perish.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: November 28th, 2019 11:56 AM

Brian Slowiak I have no idea how grants work and I know they have professional grants writers. You were able to secure funds to help you give some young people a wonderful opportunity. You may want to contact Ms. Williams at the Housing Center, and offer that information. If you do, I would be interested how well received your offer is accepted. I hope it is well received

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: November 28th, 2019 11:38 AM

Why cant the Housing Authority seek funds.donations. grants from the local and national real estate boards, NAACP, Rainbow Push, Federal Grants and donations from the citizens they have helped with housing? There is also a National Grant Library located I think at 300 S. LaSalle to locate donors. I located a family grant here in Oak Park and they gave me $300.00 for a white water rafting trip for Austin Kids to South Bend, Indiana , East Race Waterway, part of the South Bend Indiana Park District.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: November 28th, 2019 10:57 AM

Corey Gimbel I came across an older one and the majority of money spent was on salaries and there were a lot of employees. If people want to keep it open and there are people who want it closed then it seems it would be a good idea to find out how much money is left after salaries to provide the work they do, and if they really need as many employees to perform the jobs they do. That would be a fair and open way to determine any of the non profits that are supported by tax payer's. Maybe the Housing Center does excellent work and would increase public donations once people found out the work they do

Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: November 28th, 2019 8:01 AM

The Oak Park Regional Housing Centers 2018 (!!!!) form 990 required by 501C3 not for profits was due 11/15 after receiving a 6 month extension. I've requested that but Ms. Williams says it's not ready yet. But Oak Park's Village Clerk told me yesterday that the OPRHC had filed the 990 and audit with the Village. Needless to say I'm confused. That said the form would only denote salaries for executive staff working during 2018 not current staff. There are IRS penalties for 501C3 staff who don't provide requested financial info to the public at large on request. I requested that info many weeks ago. Ms, Williams response at that time was to ask who I was and why i wanted it! Imagine my surprise that she wasn't acquainted with IRS rules for 501C3 organizations.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: November 27th, 2019 3:26 PM

Corey Gimbel Maybe you can find where the latest annual report is for the Housing Center. It may show how much it takes in and how much it pays out for salaries and helps inform tax payers what they are paying for since this seems to be a very discussed topic. Maybe a few annual reports can show where things went wrong to cause complaints about the Housing Center

Corey Gimbel  

Posted: November 27th, 2019 1:36 PM

Ms. Williams wants to hire a Development Coordinator. I'd like to see the job description, salary range, educational requirements and experience matrix she would like for that critical position. Perhaps a "National Search" conducted by Adam Engle. Worked in selecting her why mess with success? I'd be happy to volunteer to participate in any task involved in filling this important slot. Wait wait ..............isn't fundraising one of the key skills needed in by the Executive Director?. Silly me,,,,,,,,,,,, why do that HARD job when you can finger wave at your compliant staff? Maybe there's an app to do for them. That'd be great. She can blame the failure on her pro bono consultant.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 26th, 2019 6:04 PM

Yeah right. Modernize. You wanna bet - like Arnold - Ms. Williams will be back ... next year ... with hand extended for another $300K?

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